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The confequences of a backbiting tongue are frequently very dreadful. It rarely fails to be a peace breaker; it ftirs up envy and revenge; fets neighbour against neighbour, and brother against brother. When a perfon is reproached he often is tempted to exert all the power of malicious invention to retort the injury. It has brought on duels, bloodshed and murder. Many churches and focieties have been totally ruined hereby. Many fightings, and defolating wars, hath it produced. It has def troyed kingdoms and fcattered nations. And what is worst of all, it has funk thousands and tens of thousands of fouls to hell
A few directions to caution us against this atrocious vice fhall conclude this difcourfe.
First, let us maintain a life of brotherly love. Love your neighbour as yourfelf. He who obferves this rule will never be guilty of this offence. No man will reproach or fpeak evil of himself. When we are tempted to this fin, let us put our felves in the place of the perfon whom we would backbite, and afk ourselves, whether we would be well pleafed, if another fhould talk in the fame manner of us. This conduct would prove a fovereign antidote against this evil.
Secondly, let us watch narrowly whether intereft or paffion does not influence us to speak against our neighbour. Selfth nefs will prompt us to commit this fin, and dispose us to juftify our iniquity. Let us guard against felfifhnefs as a dangerous thing, and the fource of innumerable mischiefs.
Thirdly, let us ever bear upon our minds an habitual fenfe of the malignant, and dangerous nature of this impiety. It had a great hand in putting to death the Lord of glory. He was called a deceiver, a devil, a blafphemer, a friend of publicans and finners, therefore he was not fit to live; away with him; crucify him, crucify him. This had an high hand in the death of the apostles; it ftyled them, peftilent fellows, movers
of fedition, turners of the world upfide down, &c. and thus. contirbuted largely to their death. It has had a full part in the murder of all the martyrs in all ages. These things fhould engage christians to avoid this abomination.
Fourthly, frown upon and difcountenance this fin in others, and it will be an excellent prefervative against it in yourselves. "As the North wind, faith Solomon, driveth away rain, fo "doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue." Better we never had tongues than employ them for fuch deftructive purposes. "Whofoever privately flandereth his neighbour, him “ will I cut off, faith the Lord.” "If any man among you "feemeth to be religious and bridleth not his tongue, that "man's religion is vain." Wherefore let us all be exhorted to avoid this evil of backbiting as we would with to escape hell, and to have the gates of heaven opened unto us.
The Excellencies and Evils of the Tongue.
James, iii. 6. And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; fo is the tongue among the members, that it defileth the whole body, and fetteth on fore the courfe of nature, and it is fet on fire of hell.
HERE is an awful defcription of an unruly and ungoverned tongue. St. James in this epiftle fets himself to corre & many evils which had taken place among the christians to whom he wrote, and for the inftruction of the churches in all future ages. Some in these early days had imbibed the fatal error, that if they had but faith, they might indulge themselves in the most licentious practices. Therefore the apostle having corrected various vices in the preceding chapters, comes in this to reprove the fins of the tongue. He propofes the exceeding great difficulty of bridling this unruly member. Hence he declares, that he who offendeth not in word is a perfect man and able to bridle the whole body. As if he had faid, the all perfon who can govern this member, can eafily govern others. This truth he illuftrates by two fimilitudes. By the fmall bits in a horfe's mouth we turn his whole body and ren
der him obedient to our will; fo he that ruleth his tongue holds all his other members in fubjection.- "Behold also the "fhips, which, tho' they be fo great, and driven of fierce winds, "yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whitherfoever the governor lifteth." As the helm governs the ship, altho' toffed by tumultuous waves, so a well bridled tongue eafily governs the whole body. These small things can perform great matters, fo the tongue is capable of accomplishing mighty deeds, both good and bad.
Having spoken of the great power of this little member, he then proceeds to fhow the mischievous evils, it produces, when ungoverned. "Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth." A small spark blows up a magazine or confumes a city. Thus this little member, the tongue, often throws a parish, a town, or a whole nation into flames.-Then the apostle introduces an hideous picture of the tongue in the words of our text." And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; fo is the
tongue amongst the members, that it defileth the whole body, " and fetteth on fire the course of nature, and is fet on fire of "hell." The images here are bold and the coloring strong. A lecture upon fuch a difagreeable portrait can never be very pleafing to speaker or hearer; yet it is neceffary at times for our edification and reformation, to attend to fubjects that are rather grating than acceptable.
First he tells us the tongue is a fire." The iffues refemble this furious element in many particulars. A fmall fpark will kindle much fuel, fo this little member can do much mifchief. A raging fire is ungovernable, fo is this. Fire bears away all before it with its deftructive flames, fo likewife this. Fire is very useful when confined to its proper place, fo the tongue is a moft important member, when held under proper regu lations.
Secondly, it is "a world of iniquity." This may admit of two conftructions. Either that it inflames an unhappy world filled with iniquity. Or the tongue itfelf is a world of fm. As the world is a collection of natural bodies, fo the tongue is an aggregate of evils.
Thirdly, "fo is the tongue among the members that it defilety It is the whole body." It infecteth the whole man with fin. often the caufe of fins being committed by the other members. Tho' fin has its origin in the foul, yet it extends through the whole man, therefore the foul and body is morally pollu. ted.
Again, "it fetteth on fire the course of nature." By the courfe of nature is underflood the tenor of a perfon's life. This is all impregnated and inflamed with iniquity. There is no ftate nor age free from the evils of the tongue. Some vices are abated by age, but these often reach through the whole time of aman's life.
Laftly, "it is fet on fire of hell." This expreffion is full of horror. Muft fire be brought from the infernal furnace to enkindle the tongue for the deftruction of the fouls and bodies of men? An unbridled tongue is fet on fire of hell, and Satan blows up the flame. How thould all then fet a watch before the door of their lips? The more unruly this member, the greater ought to be our exertions for its government. The more mifchief it is apt to create, the more it fhould be watched and restrained within proper limits. Before we proceed further to be particular in confidering the evils of the tongue, we may take a brief view of its excellencies, the ends for which it was given, and the duties of it.
Fira, in regard to its excellency. I fhall not fpeak of that which is natural, which we hold in common with the brutes, but of that which is moral. The tongue of man is his glory